Frequently Asked Questions
When is the best time to visit Hokkaido for a ski holiday?
The ski season runs from late November until early May but as with anywhere in the world weather conditions vary from year to year. At the start of the season we need a fair amount of snow to fall in order to fully cover the underbrush (sassa grass) which stands close to 2 meters tall in the summer. Until we have received enough snow to cover the sassa, our ability to ride off-piste powder is limited and options can be restricted; but if you catch that deep early season day, you’ll likely have your pick of lines as the new seasonal staff will be just as unaware of where to find the goods as the short term visitor.
Early December can sometimes bring heavy snowfalls setting us up early but generally conditions are a bit touch and go until about Christmas time when you can usually expect a sufficient base to have developed to get off the main runs and into the terrain you’ve all heard about and seen in the movies.
By January you can expect coverage to be good and powder plentiful on all slopes. January and February offer the most consistent quality powder snowfalls with powder to be expected almost on a daily basis. Remember though that even in one of the snowiest places on the planet, nothing is guaranteed and there is always the chance that you will catch that unlucky stretch of clear skies. Not surprisingly, January and February are the busiest months for ski tourism in Hokkaido so keep that in mind as accommodation can be harder to find if you are booking late and peak season rates apply to everything. Also the Sapporo Snow Festival and Chinese New Year fall in early to mid-February and these are big draw cards for a lot of visitors to the area. If these events are not of interest to you, then it is advisable to plan your trip outside of this time.
March brings a huge change of pace as the bulk of international ski visitors disappear and we’re left with uncrowded slopes and often conditions equal to or better than earlier in the winter. If you’re interested in backcountry skiing, this is a great time of year to visit as you can count on a little more sunshine, longer daylight hours and a well developed base that facilitates easier entry and exit from the backcountry.
By April, the season is coming to a close and most people are thinking about golfing, bike riding and surfing but the resorts are still open, the parks are well maintained and the long sunny days open the door to knock off some of the bigger ski traverses not possible during the winter months when the weather is too variable and the days too short.
What ability level is required for your trips?
This is an important question as no one wants to be in over their head, holding up a group or conversely spend their day standing around waiting for others to make it down the mountain. We fully understand this and have a number of ways to organize the right people in the right groups and ensure we get the right guests on the mountain together. In general though, our trips are geared towards advanced-intermediate, advanced and expert skiers but within our trip options there is a range of skills that are required to make the most of your time out on the mountain. Through the booking process, we will work with you to find out more about your skill level and get you booked on the right trips but it begins with you making an honest assessment of your abilities. Once you arrive here and join us on your first trip our guide’s can provide feedback on whether or not subsequent trips that you have booked are suitable and we will adjust if and when necessary.
*********HBC reserves the right to direct guests to on-piste terrain if your guide determines that your skill level is insufficient to safely navigate off piste terrain and natural hazards on any group trip. BDTours guides will NOT provide on piste guiding for the weaker skier / rider but rather focus on skiing more challenging off-piste terrain with those that are capable. Refunds will not be offered in the event of this occurrence. On private trips your guide will determine which terrain is suitable for your group`s skill level and take you to appropriate lines even if this means on-piste groomed trails.*********
For snowboarders, critical skills are the ability to hold a strong edge allowing for good high traverses without losing too much elevation (particurlarly important to make the most of the back bowls trip) and the ability to read terrain effectively – you have to be just a bit smarter than the average skier (hopefully the skiers aren’t reading this 🙂 to avoid the ptifalls of deep pow and flat spots. Also many runs will end with winding, bumpy trails through the forest that you will need to be able to navigate.
For skiers, the biggest challenge typically comes with skiing through deep snow and through trees. Most of Hokkaido’s best skiable terrain occurs below treeline so its important that you are able to consistently turn where the terrain dictates. Managing this in deep snow is of particular importance. A great tool to help improve your ability is a good set of fat skis and we highly recommend upgrading with a rental ski for your trip with us if conditions are deep and you aren’t skiing a fat ski.
In general, we expect guests to be fairly proficient in off piste terrain – you don’t necessarily have to have the best form or style but need to be capable of making your way down.
The following is a breakdown of our main trips and what you can expect with each.
Off piste and sidecountry day trips: This includes our Niseko Back Bowls, Powderhunter tours and trips to other ski resorts (including Rusutsu, Sapporo Kokusai, Kiroro and Teine Highland). The main criteria to enjoy these trips is as described above. As long as you meet the minimum levels, you will have a great day but we can also tailor these trips to the more extreme expert skiers out there so if you’re looking for drops, chutes, pillows and mushrooms we will find them.
Multi – day Trips: Again these trips are geared towards the same basic level described above but each trip has its own flavour which we attempt to describe with each trip write – up. Please read carefully to make sure you book the right trip for you. Our most free-flowing advanced trip with the fastest pace is the PowerTrip but all of our trips will get you out to great areas. Also we usually have fairly large groups on our multi day trips (maximum of 12 on most trips) and several guides. We will almost never ski as a full group as this is too many people to move efficiently and safely in the mountains but this allows us the opportunity to have several guides on the trip and split the group up so that everyone is skiing terrain suited to their skill level.
Backcountry Trips: In terms of going down, guests booking backcountry trips should be proficient as described above. In terms of going up hill guests should be fairly fit and able to hike for several hours over the course of the day. Experience on backcountry equipment is not required but please advise us at the time of booking how much backcountry experience you have so that we can plan and prepare accordingly.
Private Guided Trips: A private guide is a great way to go and trips will be tailored specifically to your group’s level. This is best suited to groups of 4 or more people. All options are open for private guided days and we will work with you to find out your goals for the day. On private trips we can add in some basic avalanche training to the day and even do some beacon searches if that is of interest. We can also focus a bit more on instruction and tips if you’d really like to improve your skills (please see below for more the limitations of this) or if you’re up to it, find some bigger lines, pillows or drops.
What time should I schedule my flights to arrive / depart?
Sapporo Chitose airport to Niseko: Buses run regularly through the day so any time will work; however the last bus departs the airport at 9:30pm meaning your flight needs to arrive before 8:30pm in order to make it onto the last bus. If you are arriving later than this there are private transfer options available or you can spend the night near the airport and transfer to Niseko the following morning. First bus in the morning departs at 9:30am meaning that you arrive in Niseko at ~12:30pm.
Niseko to Sapporo Chitose airport: The first bus of the day departs Niseko at 7:10am arriving at the airport at 10:25am so flight departure times of 11:30am or later can be reached. If your flight departs earlier than this, you will need to transfer to the airport the night before staying near the airport or use a private transfer service.
Sapporo Chitose to Sapporo city: Sapporo city is about 1 hour by train or bus from Sapporo Chitose airport so connections to an from the city can be made to meet any flight time.
Sapporo Chitose to Furano: The last bus to Furano departs at 5:20pm arriving in Furano at 8:20pm so you will need to arrange your flight to land before 4:30pm in order to make this transfer. If you are arriving later than this there are private transfer options available or you can spend the night near the airport and transfer to Niseko the following morning.
How do I get from Chitose airport to Niseko and back?
After arriving at Sapporo Chitose airport, the hard part is done and if you have booked accommodation with us, we will take care of everything you need from here on out. Unless otherwise requested or stated in your package, we will charge for airport transfers at the time of booking. After you have provided us with your flight details, we will make your transfer arrangements and provide you with all necessary directions to catch the direct charter bus to Niseko. Please disembark at the Niseko Village Hilton Hotel stop and the lodge staff from Black Diamond Lodge will meet you there to bring you back to our lodge.
Note: We only book airport transfers for guests staying at our accommodations. If you have booked accommodation independently, please make airport transfer arrangements with your accommodation provider to ensure a smooth transfer direct to your accommodation.
We want to book a trip(s) but want to get the best conditions – is there any flexibility to adjust our plans after we arrive?
Is backcountry safety equipment required?
Backcountry equipment is required for all participants on all trips. This equipment is included in the cost of all trips. Nevertheless please let us know if you will bring your own gear or want to use ours.
I am travelling on my own but want to join one of your trips – what are my options?
All of your trips can be booked by a single person and they often are. You will meet like minded people and usually have time to connect and hopefully make new friends and enjoy your trip